Biochemical understanding of how plants regulate oil synthesis could point to new strategies for producing renewable energy-rich chemicals
Scientists studying plant biochemistry at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have discovered new details about biomolecules that put the brakes on oil production. The findings suggest that disabling these biomolecular brakes could push oil production into high gear—a possible pathway toward generating abundant biofuels and plant-derived bioproducts. The study appears in in the journal Plant Physiology.
“It’s normal for plant cells to down-regulate oil production when we feed them excess fatty acids, and this study confirms our hypothesis about how they do that. But we also discovered that the brakes on oil production are partially on even under normal conditions, which was a big surprise,” said Brookhaven Lab biochemist John Shanklin, who led the research.
“It would be like driving a car for several years and finding out one day that a parking brake you didn’t know about had been on all along. When you remove that brake, the car has much more power; that’s what we’ve just discovered for plant oil production,” he said.
A delicate balance
The biomolecule central to this study is the enzyme that determines the rate of oil production. That enzyme, known as ACCase, is a protein made of four subunits, all of which are necessary for the enzyme to function. With all four subunits in place, the enzyme drives the first step in the synthesis of fatty acids, key components of oils.
Earlier work by Shanklin’s group in 2012 revealed that when plant cells were fed a short-term excess of fatty acids (lasting less than two days), a feedback loop inhibited this enzyme, so oil production would slow down. As long as fatty acid concentrations dropped within two days, the enzyme and oil production would turn back on. But a longer-term excess of fatty acids would permanently disable the enzyme. At the time, scientists knew of several ways that the enzyme could be inhibited, but none of those ways could explain the irreversible inhibition they were observing.
We discovered that the brakes on oil production are partially on even under normal conditions, which was a big surprise.
— Brookhaven Lab biochemist John Shanklin
When colleagues at the University of Missouri discovered an inactive version of one of the four enzyme subunits in 2016, Shanklin suspected that this inactive subunit might be the cause of the permanent shutdown—by taking the place of one of the active subunits in the enzyme. He designed this new study to test that hypothesis.
Team member Hui Liu obtained plants in which the genes that code for the inactive subunits were individually disabled. She used those variants to breed plants that had combinations of disabled subunits. If Shanklin’s idea was correct, cells with disabled inactive subunits would have a lower capacity to turn the enzyme off.
“We suspected that disabling the genes would turn off the off-switch for oil production, allowing the plant cells to make more oil,” Shanklin explained.
When team member Jan Keereetaweep tested this idea by feeding the plant cells excess fatty acids, that’s exactly what happened: Cells with combinations of the disabled genes didn’t turn off oil production the way cells with the normal genes did.
“There was 50 percent less inhibition of oil production in the cells with disabled genes compared to the wild-type plant cells,” Shanklin said. That result confirmed that the inactive subunit coded for by the normal genes in the wild-type plants was indeed what triggered permanent shutdown of the enzyme.
But the big surprise came when Keereetaweep measured fatty acid synthesis in the plant cells with disabled inactive subunits without artificially feeding them excess fatty acids and compared the results with those for wild-type plant cells under the same conditions. Under those normal conditions, where you wouldn’t expect to see oil production inhibited, the enzyme driving oil production was significantly more active in plant cells with the disabled genes than in normal plant cells.
“That means that, even under normal conditions, inactive subunits are putting the brakes on ACCase, reducing its activity and limiting oil production,” Shanklin said. “Disabling the genes for those inactive subunits is like taking the brakes off the car, revealing the motor’s true potential.”
Learn more: Removing the Brakes on Plant Oil Production
The Latest on: Plant oil production
via Google News
The Latest on: Plant oil production
- Still Reeling From Oil Plunge, Texas Faces New Threat: Surge in Virus Caseson June 25, 2020 at 2:50 pm
People returned to their dentist offices, gyms and hair salons, and bars began doing brisk business, especially in the oil production hub of West Texas ... boom and fueled an expansion of ...
- Daily on Energy, presented by API: The oil price recovery is not enough for many producerson June 25, 2020 at 9:05 am
Subscribe today to the Washington Examiner magazine and get Washington Briefing: politics and policy stories that will keep you up to date with what's going on in Washington. SUBSCRIBE NOW: Just $1.00 ...
- Big Oil’s Long Bet on Hydrogen Offers a Climate Lifelineon June 25, 2020 at 5:46 am
The clean-burning energy source is still too expensive to compete with fossil fuels, but oil companies are investing heavily.
- Palm Oil Market Trends 2020-2025, Global Industry Size, Share, Growth, Segmentation, Outlook by expertmarketresearch.comon June 25, 2020 at 5:38 am
According to a new report by Expert Market Research, 'Global Palm Oil Market Report and Forecast 2020-2025�?�, globally, 85.28 million metric tons of palm oil was produced in 2019. The palm oil output ...
- U.S. crude oil refining capacity nears 19 million bpd: U.S. EIAon June 24, 2020 at 7:39 pm
U.S. crude oil refining capacity grew by nearly 1 percent in 2019, or 173,650 barrels per day (bpd) to nearly 19 million bpd, a new record, according to a report released on Wednesday by the U.S.
- Why did Sweden's oil power plant start up in the middle of summer?on June 24, 2020 at 4:17 pm
On Tuesday, the oil power plant at Karlshamn started running again, despite it being the height of summer and despite Sweden's goal of working towards 100 percent renewable energy. This stirred up ...
- New oil packaging plant set for Goodwill of the Heartlandon June 24, 2020 at 1:00 pm
Goodwill of the Heartland will be kicking off operations for a new oil packaging plant in Coralville beginning next week.
- Oil & Gas Stock Roundup: Schlumberger Cuts Cost, Continental's Output Plans & Moreon June 24, 2020 at 7:59 am
Schlumberger (SLB) announced initiatives to save roughly $1.5 billion in costs annually, while Continental Resources (CLR) said that it will gradually restore its output on improving fundamentals.
- LyondellBasell's Spheripol Technology Selected by Indian Oilon June 23, 2020 at 11:11 am
Indian Oil is currently operating polypropylene plants with total capacity of 1,300 KTA that are based on LyondellBasell's (LYB) proprietary Spheripol technology.
via Bing News